“Trump became president last night” is an out-of-favor punditry phrase so brimming with know-nothing bullshit that it’s become a meme. It can mean anything—Trump doing a bad thing, another person in Trump’s orbit doing a mundane thing, a party unrelated to Trump doing anything. For awhile this year, I was jokingly referring to menstruation as “becoming president last night,” but that didn’t quite catch on, which is too bad.
What it usually means is “Trump managed to not fuck up an easy thing.” And on Monday, Trump did, indeed, not fuck up an easy thing.
The bar was low.
Hours after the World Trade Center towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001, Donald Trump spoke with local New York news channel WWOR. The anchor asked Trump if his building was affected by the unfathomable tragedy.
“I mean, 40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan,” the future president said. “And it was actually before the World Trade Center the tallest, and then when they built the World Trade Center it became known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest.”
Truly, some weird words from a very strange man.
During the campaign, he repeated, over and over again, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, that on Sept. 11, “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrated the terrorist attacks in the streets of New Jersey.
Two years ago, he had more odd things to say on Sept. 11. “I’d like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11,” he tweeted.
To borrow a couple of Trumpian phrases, many people were saying, in the lead-up to “this special date,” that the president would somehow say or do something bad on 9/11 again. The stakes are higher now: He’s no longer some goofball on television or on Twitter; now he’s a goofball with the nuclear codes and a duty to provide moral leadership for an entire nation.
But, shock of shocks, he didn’t. On Monday, the president successfully did not say anything racist or sexist. He didn’t blurt out classified information at a foreign agent he was trying to impress. He didn’t make a wild claim that sent federal agencies on a wild goose chase to debunk, robbing agents of the ability to pursue real cases. He didn’t regale thousands of Boy Scouts with an anti-Hillary Clinton screed. He didn’t defend the Ku Klux Klan. He didn’t say “have a good time!” to mourning families. He didn’t honk any boobs or walk through a teen beauty pageant dressing room. He didn’t wish anybody a “great 9/11.”
I am not in any way implying that not fucking up on 9/11 is somehow presidential. I am extremely not the president, and I manage to get through most 9/11 anniversaries without acting specifically offensive about this one thing, like almost every person I know who is also extremely not the president. It’s seems pretty easy to appropriately commemorate a national tragedy. Solemn words, solemn facial expression, acknowledgement of the enduring loss this country feels, many families feel. Being quiet is always a good fallback; silence is often mistaken for seriousness.
Trump did, as Trump does, continue to act like a very strange person, albeit one that was sedate enough to avoid being violently offensive. He didn’t tweet about the anniversary of the terror attacks until the afternoon, and when he did, he tweeted out a video that featured clips of Donald Trump doing things on 9/11 over a “Taps” soundtrack, which made it seem like the 9/11 commemoration was about recognizing Donald Trump. He talked through two moments of silence at the Pentagon. He read prepared remarks without interjecting anything about the Electoral College. If any other president had the 9/11 Trump had, it’d be viewed as a disaster. But Trump is measured by different standards.
As the clock struck midnight last night, his staff must have breathed a sigh of relief, maybe popped some bottles of Trump Didn’t Do Anything Too Weird on 9/11 Champagne. And then, in my imagined White House, they checked Twitter and heaved grateful tears as they saw that Ted Cruz had accidentally liked a porn video on Twitter, thus distracting from the moment of silence ignoring.
Credit where it’s due: If Trump behaved like this every day of his presidency, like a poorly behaved teen boy who returned from reform school exhibiting slightly below acceptable behaviors instead of the normal wildly unacceptable behaviors, we’d all breathe a little easier. Even the haters and the losers.